Salvadoran woman jailed for abortion crimes hopes for early release - rights groups

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Salvadoran woman who says she suffered a stillbirth but was wrongly imprisoned for murdering her child could secure an early release as judges in El Salvador review her case on Friday, rights groups said.

The case puts the spotlight on El Salvador’s total ban on abortion ban as the country faces mounting international pressure to overturn its strict law on terminations.

Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, 34, was handed a 30-year prison sentence in 2008 for aggravated murder after she was convicted of intentionally inducing an abortion, which is a crime under any circumstances in the Central American nation.

Vasquez, who has a son, has spent 10 years in prison. She says she went into labor in a bathroom at work and suffered a stillbirth.

Rights groups supporting her case say they are “hopeful” that she could secure an early release as three judges review her case in a court hearing in the capital San Salvador.

“The hearing will review the sentence given to see if there were judicial errors in the case so that she can be freed,” said Catalina Martinez, Latin America director at the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

However, the rights group noted that the judges set to review Vasquez’s case are the same judges who handed down her original conviction.

A local rights group, the Citizen Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion (CDFA), who are representing Vasquez, says her conviction was based on flimsy evidence.

“New evidence showing Vasquez’s innocence has been submitted for the judges to review,” Angelica Rivas, a lawyer at the CDFA, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

According to the CDFA, Vasquez is among 27 other women behind bars in El Salvador where abortion is outlawed even in cases of rape, incest, when the woman’s life is in danger or the foetus is deformed.

Rights groups says women have been imprisoned when they suffered miscarriages, stillbirths or pregnancy complications.

“El Salvador is a country where women have been routinely locked up simply for having complicated pregnancies,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Friday.

It called on El Salvador to release all women jailed for pregnancy-related complications.

A precedent has already been set in the case of Maria Teresa Rivera, who was freed in 2016 after her conviction for murder following a miscarriage was quashed, said Rivas.

Last month, the United Nations called on El Salvador to issue a moratorium on applying its abortion law and urged authorities to review all cases where women have been imprisoned for abortion related crimes.